The mental game: It's all in our head!
"When the going gets tough, the tough get going".
Mental toughness is the ability to perform to the upper range of your individual talent and skill, regardless of competitive circumstances.
We all know that especially long distance events require al least as much mental strength as physical preparation!
Being mentally tough means that no matter how brutal the circumstances are, whether it's your 13th hour during the Ironman race in temperatures well over 35 C or your 20th rep of a 400m interval session, you're able to stand the pain and suffering and perform to the best of your skills, with a good time, maybe your personal best, with a good place, maybe on the podium of your age group category or even a win, or "just" finishing.
Mental toughness may be the defining factor between finishing at the front of the pack and not finishing at all.
It's not just the ability to keep moving but to keep doing it in a way that's engaged and competitive in the environment you're in, whether that's competing against the clock or other human beings. It's easy when you feel good physically. It's when that physicality leaves you, it becomes the real task.
What you're physically capable of in an endurance environment is more determined by your mental strength than your physical capabilities. Your body can go beyond what your physical perceptions of tiredness or fatigue are. Your brain will be telling you "You are tired, stop." The mental limitations kick in before the physical limitations, it's a simple protecting factor.
Visualization is a part of the training that is important. You don't have to do anything physically, you can be meditating or walking, anything where you're in your mind, playing it out in advance. You can imagine the start, the course, the spectators, the finish line or those points that your body is saying "stop", or that you're suffering. You can mentally training yourself to push through those barriers.
You should also be prepared to overcome mechanical issues during the bike leg, a flat tire, loosing your nutrition, getting hit during the swim...the list is long, but the better you are prepared mentally to those, the better you will handle the real situation, if it occurs on race day.
If you spend too much time being down about it, it can throw your race completely. You have to keep yourself in a place that's not a dark, panic one.
It also comes back to core faith, for me it always was my family and the people that are closest to me, I raced also for them and gained strength and positivity, knowing they will wait at the finish line or follow me online for several hours back home.
Another thing is, of course, the training, in many ways harder than the event itself in terms of the hours you're putting in and no one is cheering for you. You have to get comfortable in your pain cave. It's a place of prolonged suffering. You know you're going to experience it, but you have to find a way to know that it's not going to last forever.
Try to focus your mind on the positive of completing. When you're in immense physical pain, try to dull the pain as much as possibile or the opposite, try to welcome the pain!
It's up to you, remember, everyone is different!
But once the pain enters your head, you start to legitimise ways of pulling out. There's a difference between "bonking" and hitting the wall mentally. When you really bonk physically (nutritional issues for example) in most situations there is less you can do about it, you will loose a lot of time or even not be able to finish.
But how long you hit a wall mentally, depends on your own thoughts, mantras, to what your brain is saying to you and how you handle these.
There can be bad 20 or 30 minutes, but you can still have a pretty awesome race.
Don't feed into your fears or worries or concerns. You have to feed into your positive thoughts, those are the ones that are going to get you through.
This can definitely be practiced during your very intense training sessions.
I know, it's easier said than done, but
...try and believe!